Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Difference Between a Legend and a Footnote: Glasspar Catches Fire in The Race, But Not In Racing

The 1953 Mameco Ardun Glasspar was a lap away from destiny.
 Glasspar was a start-up kit car company, founded by Bill Tritt in his entrepreneurial days. He had been instrumental in the building of the Glasspar Boat company, but he had set his sights higher, taking a risky flyer by producing a sleek fiberglass roadster that anyone with a frame and some mechanical aptitude could put-together in their garage. And part of the selling point would have to be the viability of the Glasspar as a true sports car, not just in its looks, but in its performance as well.  The car had already had a disappointingly short run in the Panamericana Race in Mexico; the Pebble Beach Road Race could be it's salvation.

The Pebble Beach race was a fairly new event that had the cachet of being run in California, home of the burgeoning sports car and road-race movement, and was also affiliated, in conversation at least, with the prestigious Concours Auto Show. Though not officially connected, the symbolism of the name heightened interest in the event. Some of the best drivers, and cars, would be at the starting line.

The Glasspar entrant was a beaut. It was a specially-prepared beast, with a Ardun-prepped flathead, the top of the line at the time. Ed Martindale and Ted Mangels, the owners of Mameco Engineering, had assembled the car with care and purpose.
Rounding the last lap at the Pebble Beach Road Race, the fiberglass special was ahead of the field, and minutes away from notching a victory over the MG's, Jags and other expected top performers, when driver Warren Gerdes suddenly smelled trouble.
He swung his steering wheel to the right, pulling off the main roadway and onto the narrow shoulder. And that is where the dream of a home-built, small-production Glasspar kit car went up in smoke. Warren could only watch, as the beautiful bronze-ochre hood began to darken, then leak small flickers of flame. 

The Glasspar showed plenty of promise, and even turned in the fastest 1/4 mile time of any sports car later that year, at nearly 106 mph. But the disappointment of Pebble Beach curbed the momentum of a rising star, blinking out the car company, and its reputation, in the racing galaxy.

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